Wednesday, July 3, 2019

The Three Weird Sisters

In last week's blog I posted an old article about the three witches from Macbeth. In my new historical detective novel, Give Me The Daggers, the three weird sisters also play an integral role, and as in Shakespeare's play, the witches appear first. Here is prologue from Give Me The Daggers.


THE WIND BLEW with monstrous might and main out of the north and across the moor. An unstoppable primitive force, it seemed to derive its power from neither heaven nor hell, but some deep, dark recess not kin to this world. No mountain range or forest stood in its path, so unabated it rolled on. The wind increased in speed and ferocity, as was the awful noise it made, as if the suffering world had found a voice and screamed out in agony. Had there been a human being in this remote and desolate land to hear it, they would have been driven mad by the hideous sound.
     A flash of blue lightning was followed by a sharp crack of thunder. The sound reverberated across the Moorland drowning out the wind. The thunder had a solidity that tossed tree branches about and even seemed to move small rocks. The angry heavens flashed again. A lightning bolt fell to earth as if thrown by some ancient god, and struck a tree. It was not a large tree, but rather sick and feeble-looking one. A branch dropped to the ground and the spot where the lightning hit caught fire. The wind soon put out the flame, and rain started to fall.
    A female creature stood amidst the storm and laughed to see such things. She did not fear the elements as other mortals. She welcomed them. Standing in the middle of the moor, her arms outstretched, she beckoned to the wind and rain, the thunder and lightning. She felt akin to the elemental forces as they raged about her. Her body tingled as she felt a mingling with powers not understood or suspected by most human beings.
    Her features were androgynous and some may have even assumed she was a man. Her face was anything but feminine; indeed, she was quite repulsive. Bad teeth and a
tuft of hair on her chin made her even more abhorrent. She
carried a coarse-cloth sack. From inside the sack a small creature squirmed, making pathetic whimpering sounds.
    Another woman joined the first. Though she appeared younger, the second female looked similar to the first, dressed in rags and cast-off clothes. Her face was dirty and her thin lips chapped and cracked. The fingers on her hands, not the usual ten, were long and bony.
    A third woman joined the other two. This one was older. Her right eye contained no color, making her unique appearance even more pronounced.
    An aberrant bond existed between the three. It was a bond rooted in more than their history, or their background or blood. These three were tied to one another beyond any human ties. The powers of any one of them were enhanced by the other two. The number three was a special number in holy mysticism; the Holy Trinity, the three magi, and Peter‘s three denials. The number three held power in the unholy black arts as well.
    Though female in nature, they were not exactly women. They had transcended their sex and their humanity, if they were ever human. Their human features were not exactly their own. They did possess female qualities, as much as nature could create gender, but their spirits, their essence  was beyond the scope of human understanding, even beyond the scope of nature, for they were not of nature. There was something very unnatural about them.     
    The women stood close and faced one another. The first woman opened her sack and withdrew a rather small but remarkable-looking creature. It was a sickly-white and completely hairless. Unnatural oils allowed the rain to roll off its slimy skin. The creature was small like a child. Indeed it did have a head and limbs, but the digits that grew from its limbs were more like claws. Anyone would have difficulty guessing the nature of this grotesque. It may  have  been  part  human, part animal, part snake, and
perhaps part demon. The coupling required to produce such a creature was both revolting and mind-boggling.
    The first woman held out the creature in front of her and began the incantation.
    “Fair is foul and foul is fair: hover though the fog and filthy air.”
    The young woman put her hand around the throat of the small creature. She began to strangle it as she joined in the incantation.
    “Fair is foul and foul is fair: hover through the fog and filthy air.”
    The oldest woman brought out a knife and sliced the creature open as she said, “Fair is foul and foul is fair: hover through the fog and filthy air.”
    As the blood ran freely from the gaping wound, the woman holding the creature moved it back and forth and around and around creating an archaic symbol with its blood upon the ground.
    When she finished, the first woman tossed the lifeless carcass behind her.
    The three took turns spitting, urinating and defecating upon the blood-stained ground.
    “When shall we three meet again?” the first woman said. “In thunder, lightning or in rain?”
    “When the hurly-burly’s done,” the second woman said. “When the battle’s lost and won.”
    “That will be ere the set of sun,” the third said.
    The first asked, “Where’s the place?”
    Answered the other two, “Upon the heath.”
    “There to meet with…”
    “MACBETH!” they cried out in unison

    Gruoch, wife of Macbeth mac Finlay, looked up at her husband  as  the  cry  escaped his lips. His face went ashen
and  the  look  of  terror  dawned  on  his  face.  She  felt his

member inside her shrink up and lose its hardness.
    “What is it?” she demanded.
    His limbs stiffened and sweat broke out all over his body. Macbeth, Thane of Glamis, rolled off his wife and lay on his back in his bed.
    “What is it?” Gruoch repeated, sitting up and placing her palm against his bearded cheek. “What is wrong?”
    He stared up at the ceiling of their bedchamber and rubbed his chest. He was trembling.
    Gruoch got out of bed and poured a cup of wine that was on a nearby table. She brought it over to husband, who continued to breathe deeply.
    “Drink this,” she ordered.
    He sat up and drank the wine.
    She took the cup from him and had him lay back down. She sat next to him stroking his brow and speaking soothingly.
    “There, there, now,” she said. “Just relax. More wine? No? Do you feel better? Good. What was it that startled you so?”
    Macbeth lay there, still staring up at the ceiling. He shook his head, as if not knowing how to describe it.
    “I feel as if… it felt like… someone had… I felt an icy grip… upon my soul, by Saint Columba, I did,” he said. “I thought I had… witnessed my own death… saw my own grave, and... glimpsed hell itself.”
    She looked at him concerned. In the years she had known him, Macbeth had never experienced a nightmare in his sleep, let alone having one while they were making love.
    Gruoch bent over and kissed his lips gently.
    Macbeth, Lord of Moray, tried to slow his heart rate and breathe normal. He raised his right hand in front of his eyes and it shook noticeably. He looked up into her eyes.
They were beautiful. Never had he seen such eyes. Never had he been so completely in love with a woman.
    The unexplainable episode was troubling to him. Never
had   he   experienced    anything    such    as   that   before.   It more than troubled Macbeth… it frightened him. He would have to find the courage to go on. But where would he find such courage? Macbeth knew. He would find the courage in her eyes. She had more than her share of strength, he thought. He had always known it. She would kill for him. And he would kill for her.

Give Me The Daggers by Stephen Gaspar 
                is available on Amazon!

Friday, June 28, 2019

Macbeth and the Three Witches

In Give Me The Daggers, my latest mystery/detective novel based partly on Shakespeare's play Macbeth, the three weird sisters play an integral part in the story. 

The following is an excerpt from The Drama, Its History, Literature and Influence on Civilization by Alan Bates published in 1906.

These repulsive hags, from which the imagination shrinks, are here emblems of the hostile powers which operate in nature; and the repugnance of our senses is outweighed by the mental horror. With one another they discourse like women of the very lowest class; for this was the class to which they were ordinarily supposed to belong; when, however, they address Macbeth, they assume a loftier tone; their predictions, which they either themselves pronounce or allow their apparitions to deliver, have all the obscure brevity, the majestic solemnity of oracles. They are governed by an invisible spirit, or the operation of such great and dreadful events would be above their sphere. With what intent did Shakespeare assign the same place to them in his play which they occupy in the history of Macbeth as related in the old chronicles? 

A monstrous crime is committed; Duncan, a venerable old man, and the best of kings, is, in defenseless sleep, under the hospital's roof, murdered by his subject, whom he has loaded with honors and rewards. Natural motives alone seem inadequate, or the perpetrator must have been portrayed as a hardened villain. Shakespeare wished to exhibit a more sublime picture--an ambitious but noble hero, yielding to a deep-laid hellish temptation, and in whom all the crimes to which, in order to secure the fruits of his first crime, he is impelled by necessity, cannot altogether eradicate the stamp of native heroism. 

He has, therefore, given a threefold division to the guilt of that crime. The first idea comes from beings whose whole activity is guided by the lust of wickedness. The weird sisters surprise Macbeth in the moment of intoxication of victory, when his love of glory has been gratified; they cheat his eyes by exhibiting to him as the work of fate what in reality can only be accomplished by his own deed, and gain credence for all their words by the immediate fulfillment of the first prediction.

Give Me The Daggers and all of Stephen Gaspar's books can be found on Amazon!

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Give Me The Daggers Foreword

My latest historical mystery/detective book has just been released. Here is the foreword to Give Me the Daggers.

   My love affair with Shakespeare began late in life. As a struggling writer I wanted to know why he was considered the greatest writer of the English language, and so I began my study. Soon I found myself gobbling up his plays like Falstaff feasting on capons and sack. I suppose I wanted to make up for all those years that I could have been reading Shakespeare, so casting off my misspent youth like young Prince Hal I delved seriously into the Bard of Avon. I quickly realized that all the praise and accolades laid at Bard’s door were well-earned. Since then I now have several of Shakespeare’s collected works as well as individual plays filling my bookshelves. My wife Susan and I drive up to Stratford, Ontario every summer to visit family and take in a couple of productions at the Shakespeare Festival.
  After reading Macbeth (three or four times) I came to realize, as did many others, that the play has the making of a murder mystery. In Shakespeare’s play we know the killers, but no one acts as a detective to investigate the killings. So I set out to write Give Me the Daggers as a Macbeth murder mystery. I chose the Thane of Lennox as the detective who seeks to learn the truth. All the familiar characters are there as well; Macbeth, Macduff, Banquo, Ross, and Lady Macbeth, along with some new characters. Fans of Macbeth will undoubtedly recognize many of the original lines that made the play so popular over the centuries, though sometimes the lines are out of order and some lines are spoken by other characters. Not all the famous lines and soliloquies are here, though. Due to the nature of the traditional detective fiction style, where the protagonist, Lennox, is in every scene, not every line in the play was used.
    William Shakespeare was commonly known to play fast and loose with history and he never let the truth get in the way of a good story (see my Afterward). He may also have had access to inaccurate history sources, for it is known that certain details in Macbeth are erroneous. Though I have used Shakespeare’s play as my source, I have also endeavoured to inject some true history in the story.
    The reader will, I trust, view Give Me the Daggers as more than a simple retelling of Shakespeare’s Macbeth, but as a detective story. I hope this will satisfy both Macbeth fans and those who have never read or seen the play (I am sure there are some out there). Perhaps this story will introduce some to Shakespeare, but let the reader beware; once you delve into the Bard, there is no turning back.

For God’s sake let us sit upon the ground
and tell sad stories of the death of kings;
How some have been deposed; some slain in war,
Some haunted by the ghost they have deposed;
Some poison’d by their wives: some sleeping kill’d;
All murder’d ...
                                    Richard II, Act III, Scene II 

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

The Tragedy of Macbeth

G. K. Chesterton, the writer of the Father Brown stories (and many others), claimed that Macbeth is Shakespeare's greatest drama. Chesterton goes on to say:

"For the play is so very great that it covers much more than it appears to cover; it will certainly survive our age as it has survived its own;"

 "And it is the whole point about Macbeth that he does know what he is doing. It is not a tragedy of Fate but a tragedy of Freewill.”

Nowhere else in all his wonderful works did Shakespeare describe the real character of the relations of the sexes so sanely, or so satisfactorily as he describes it here.  The man and the woman are never more normal than they are in this abnormal and horrible story. 

A. C. Bradley wrote, "...we feel suspense, horror, awe; in which are latent, also, admiration and sympathy."

"The writing almost throughout leaves an impression of intense, almost feverish, activity."

"But it is an engrossing spectacle, and psychologically it is perhaps the most remarkable exhibition of the development of a character to be found in Shakespeare's tragedies."

In William Peter Bladdy's Exorcist III, Lieutenant Kinderman says, "Do you know what Macbeth is about? I'll tell you. It's a play about the numbing of the moral sense."

Shakespeare's Macbeth is indeed all these things. Me, I thought it would make a great detective story.

GIVE ME THE DAGGERS by Stephen Gaspar is available on Amazon!

Friday, June 14, 2019

Macbeth Murder Mystery

Just Released!

Give Me The Daggers


Stephen Gaspar

Available on Amazon!

In the year 1040 AD the Scottish king, Duncan is found brutally murdered in his bed. Certain evidence points to the king's own servants. Gowan Drummond, Thane of Lennox does not believe Duncan's  servants killed him. Drummond’s suspicions turn to Macbeth who quickly ascends the throne. His suspicions become certainty when Banquo is found murdered. In his quest for the truth, the Thane of Lennox must be cautious in his investigations, for cruel are the times, and a dangerous evil is loose in the land. Give Me The Daggers is based partly on history but mainly on William Shakespeare’s great tragedy Macbeth, but told as a detective story with some supernatural elements. Many of the familiar characters from the play are present as well as some new ones. Readers will recognize the iconic phrases that has made the play an unparalleled classic.

Monday, June 10, 2019

Macbeth - A Detective Story

William Shakespeare's Macbeth may be the Bard's greatest play. It has it all; unbridled ambition, suspicion, fear, love and a few dead bodies. 

It was this last one that inspired me to write Give Me The Daggers, the Macbeth play told as a detective story. 

Give Me The Daggers is now available on Amazon!

Sunday, April 21, 2019

Dashiell Hammett - The Thin Man

Rereading The Thin Man (1933) I struck how unique it is compared to Dashiell Hammett's other works. The Thin Man is light and funny and looks at semi-high society New York and touches very little on the seedy side of society compared to, let's say, Red Harvest or The Glass Key. The Thin Man is known for all its references to drinking cocktails by the charming and gay (happy) couple, Nick and Nora Charles.

Nora sighed. "I wish you were sober enough to talk to." She leaned over to take a sip of my drink.

"How do you feel?"
"Terrible. I must've gone to bed sober."

Nora decided that she wanted to go home early and sober, ...

"Why don't you stay sober today?"
"We didn't come to New York to stay sober. Want to see a hockey game tonight?"

The mystery involves a missing eccentric, Clyde Wynant, whose family and lawyer want to find him. Nick Charles, a former detective, has no interest in finding him... until there is a dead body.

There is a lot of dialogue in The Thin Man and Hammett's narratives are brief and concise. He does not go in for long or detailed descriptions, or the similes and metaphors for which Raymond Chandler is known.

She was small and blonde, and whether you looked at her face or at her body in powder-blue sports clothes the result was satisfactory.

He was a big curly-haired, rosy-cheeked, rather good-looking chap...

He was a plump dark youngish man of medium height, broad through the jaws, narrow between the eyes. He wore a black derby hat, a black overcoat that fitted him very snugly, a dark suit, and black shoes, all looking as if he had bought them within the past fifteen minutes. The gun, a blunt black .38-calibre automatic, lay comfortably in his hand, not pointing at anything.

In my book A Piece of Work, I used plenty of references to the time it takes place; 1959. I found Hammett did the same in The Thin Man.

Nora and I went to the opening of Honeymoon at the Little Theatre ...

He  may have been referring to The Honeymoon (1930) movie directed by and starring Eric von Stroheim, or the play Almost a Honeymoon (1930) by Walter Ellis.

The Little Theatre was built in 1921 on 240 W. 44th St.

Nora could not sleep that night. She read Chaliapin's memoirs until I began to doze...
Feodor Ivanovich Chaliapin (1873-1938) was a Russian opera singer. In 1932 Chaliapin published a memoir, Man and Mask: Forty Years in the Life as a Singer. 

Nora almost mentions the  famously infamous Lindbergh kidnapping case of 1932.

I said, "but right now I'd swap you all the interviews with Mayor-elect O'Brien ever printed..."

John P. O'Brien was the 98th mayor of  New York from January 1933 to December 1933.

When we returned to the living-room, Dorothy and Quinn were dancing to Eadie Was a Lady.

Eadie Was a Lady was a very popular song from the Broadway musical Take a Chance (1932).

Though the story takes place during the Great Depression there is no mention, however, of  the Wall Street Crash of 1929, mass unemployment, breadlines and soup kitchens. Like those Busby Berkeley movies of the 1930s, Hammett wanted to take people's mind off the Depression.

Nick and Nora help keep things light and airy with a good deal of wisecracking.

She [Nora] grinned at me. "You got types?"
"Only you, darling--lanky brunettes with wicked jaws."

Nora stopped drinking to ask: "Did Wynant really steal it?"
"Tch, tch, tch," I said. "This is Christmas Eve: try to think good of your fellow man."

I kissed her. "Don't you think maybe a drink would help you to sleep?"
"No, thanks."
"Maybe it would if I took one." 

"Whatever you're giving me," she said, "I hope I don't like it."
"You'll have to keep them anyway, because the man at the Aquarium said he positively wouldn't take them back....

"You like Nick a lot, don't you, Nora?" Dorothy asked.
"He's an old Greek fool, but I'm used to him."

"Tell me the truth, Nick: have I been too silly?"
I shook my head. "Just silly enough."
She laughed, said, "You're a Greek louse," ....

I have read all five novels by Dashiell Hammett and some of his short stories. The Thin Man is by far the must fun and entertaining.

A Piece of Work and other books by Stephen Gaspar are available on Amazon. Click here!